Movie DopeMovies

Movie Dope

A DANGEROUS METHOD (R) Young psychiatrists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, respectively) are working together to create a theory for what will become modern psychoanalysis. A young patient (Keira Knightly) with a crippling mental disorder pulls Jung further from the influence of his mentor in this true, romantic thriller.

ANONYMOUS (PG-13) In keeping with his legacy of believable story lines, Roland Emmerich directs a historical film about the fraudulence of William Shakespeare’s genius. The director of Independence Day and 2012 puts his what-if spin on Elizabethan politics to purport that a more literate member of the upper class was responsible for the controversial narratives of royalty and betrayal we commonly attribute to a man of lesser standing.

ANVIL! (NR) 2008. In the early 1980s, Anvil was scheduled to be the next big thing in metal. The “demigods of Canadian metal†influenced everyone from Metallica to Slayer. School chums Steve “Lips†Kudlow and Robb Reiner planned to rock forever, and they still do in the obscurity of tiny clubs and tiny audiences. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is no Spinal Tap mockumentary; this hilarious account of the band’s last-ditch revival is the reality of rock and roll. The band will participate in a post-film Q&A. Pair this screening with the following night’s concert for the full Anvil experience.

THE ARTIST (PG-13) Films today do not come as precious or charming as Michel Hazanavicius’ silent, Golden Globe winning Oscar frontrunner. A silent film that is all about talking, The Artist of title refers to matinee idol George Valentin (Golden Globe winner Jean Dujardin, who absolutely must be a silent film star Hazanivicius recently thawed from ice), who finds it difficult to transition from silent films to talkies, unlike rising star Peppy Miller (Golden Globe nominee Berenice Bejo). But Miller has a crush on Valentin that predates her stardom, and will do everything she can to help the despondent one-time star. Like an unearthed gem, a long-lost silent relic, The Artist is at once wholly familiar yet completely foreign. It’s a foreign language film without a language. Naturally, being silent, the score by Ludovic Bource plays as important a role as the actors. (It’ll be a pity if the Vertigo controversy harms its award potential.) It is truly lovely, complementing every scene without overpowering any of the actors’ apropos mugging. If Roberto Benigni can win an Oscar, Dujardin should be a lock. Props to Uggie the dog as well. Who knew a trifling eccentricity would wind up 2011’s most daring film?

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (G) 1991. Disney rereleases the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar using the fancy new 3D technology that is all the rage right now. Based on the classic fairy tale, Belle falls in love with Beast (voiced by Ice Castles’ heartthrob Robby Benson), who just so happens to be a cursed prince. The terrific voice cast includes Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers and Angela Lansbury. Winner of two Academy Awards (Best Score and Best Original Song).

BIG MIRACLE (PG) Not surprisingly based on true events, Big Miracle recounts a small Alaskan town’s efforts to rescue a family of gray whales trapped in the Arctic ice. John Krasinski stars as the news reporter who contacts his ex-girlfriend (Drew Barrymore), a Greenpeace volunteer, to bring attention to the giant mammals’ plight. Director Ken Kwapis has had more TV success than big screen, but this supporting cast (Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Ted Danson, Stephen Root and Tim Blake Nelson) has a shot to elevate this movie from its made-for-TV origins.

BLACK DYNAMITE (R) 2009. Another homage to blaxploitation, Black Dynamite stars co-writer Michael Jai White (Spawn) as the titular hero who must avenge his brother’s murder and right neighborhood wrongs all the way to the White House (James McManus plays Richard Nixon himself). I’m glad this movie finally made it to Athens, even if it is two years late. Winner of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film. With Arsenio Hall and “In Living Colorâ€â€™s Tommy Davidson.

CARNAGE (R) Go ahead and hashtag Roman Polanski’s new film “First World Problems.†Two New York couples, Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Golden Globe nominee Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and Nancy and Alan Cowan (Golden Globe nominee Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), hold an anti-productive summit after a playground fight between their sons. Yasmina Reza and Polanski update Reza’s play for the big screen, and the four main actors have a ball yakking (in more ways than one) about their marital and parental woes. Polanski does nothing extraordinary because he doesn’t have to. Carnage’s success rests largely on its actors’ shoulders, and the quartet makes the antics of these largely unlikable adults uncomfortably hilarious. I’m not sure how the Hollywood Foreign Press decided only the ladies were worthy of nominations, as the men easily prove they’re equals. Everyone should be thanking QT for bringing Waltz to their attention; the Oscar winner is Hollywood’s best addition in the past few years. When will the severely undervalued Reilly, the only major player in this picture without an Oscar, finally receive the credit he truly deserves? Carnage isn’t a great film, but it’s the best 2012 has yet to offer.

CHRONICLE (PG-13) I want to like this horror, sci-fi, superhero mashup, but my first impression (a TV trailer) was weak. Three high school friends, including Michael B. Jordan of the excellent, missed “Friday Night Lights,†gain superpowers after making a discovery. Not much can be gleaned from the filmmakers’ filmographies. Director Josh Trank edited the okay Patton Oswalt black comedy Big Fan and writer Max Landis scripted a couple of episodes for the horror anthology series “Masters of Horror†and “Fear Itself.â€

CONTRABAND (R) How much cooler would this flick have been had it recounted the tale of Bill and Lance, two lonely, shirtless soldiers blasting their way to the Alien’s lair to the sounds of Cinemechanica? Much, much cooler. Alas, Contraband is merely a standard, occasionally thrilling heist flick starring the “always reliable for this sort of action” Mark Wahlberg. As Chris Farraday, a former master smuggler gone legit, Wahlberg calmly muscles his way from New Orleans to Panama in order to get his brother-in-law (X-Men: First Class’s Caleb Landry Jones) out of trouble with a small time crook (Giovanni Ribisi). If Chris fails, his pretty wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two little boys may pay the price. Director Baltasar Kormakur knows the territory; he should, seeing as he starred in the Icelandic original, Reykjavik-Rotterdam. The pace of this smuggling master class rarely flags, but the plot’s machinations are fueled by too much stupidity for good escapist fun. Frankly, these people are too depressing to be much fun. I still like Ben Foster, who excels as Chris’ best bud; here’s hoping he doesn’t get stuck as Jason Statham or Marky Mark’s action sidekick.

THE DESCENDANTS (R) Oscar-nominated George Clooney searches for the man who may or may not have had an affair with his comatose wife in this Best Picture contender. Traces of O Brother Where Art Thou? come out in Clooney’s clipped, obsessive, reactionary dialogue as he cares for his two rebellious, insightful daughters, wields his power as a wealthy Hawaiian lawyer to decide if his legacied family should sell the last of their virgin land and struggles to redefine his relationship with his wife.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (NR) 1944. Ciné is heating up the cold winter nights with a Classic Film Noir Series featuring Hollywood classics screened from increasingly precious 35mm prints. Insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray as the anti-Steve Douglas) gets involved with a bad dame, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). One of legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder’s innumerable classics, Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. If you don’t know what film noir is, see this film. Double Indemnity teaches a graduate course in that often overused genre determination.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM (PG) 2010. Winner of five Best Documentary Awards (including the Humane Society’s Genesis Award), The Elephant in the Living Room tackles the controversial subject of raising the world’s most exotic animals as a household pet. Part of the seventh annual Animal Voices Festival sponsored by Speak Out for Species, the screening will include a discussion led by Janet Frick, Ph.D., Associate Head of the UGA Department of Psychology and Director of the UGA Infant Research Lab.


This adaptation of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel could have devolved into Stage 4 Pay It Forward-level emotional manipulation. Instead, the 9/11 tearjerker, directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader), only reaches Stage 2. Young Oskar Schell (“Jeopardyâ€â€™s Kids Week Champion Thomas Horn, making a striking acting debut) tries to make sense of his father’s death on 9/11. His dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks, in quite possibly his most saintly role to date), used to send Oskar on city-wide expeditions to help the boy conquer his social inhibitions. The final quest requires Oskar to traipse around NYC in search of a lock to fit a mysterious key. Of course, the journey to solving this mystery is more important than the solution itself. Impressive performances from the young Horn and the older Max von Sydow keep the film from drowning in its own sorrows. Appearances from Viola Davis, John Goodman and Jeffrey Wright are welcome, but Sandra Bullock merely gets her tears on as Oskar’s grief-ridden mom. Everything should be fine so long as audiences simply expect the good movie Extremely Loud is, as opposed to the awards bait it fails to be.

FOOTLOOSE (PG-13) Let’s go ahead and dispel any thoughts that the Kevin Bacon starrer is somehow above being remade. What Hustle & Flow filmmaker Craig Brewer has done in remaking the seminal ’80s flick is impressive. Brewer relocates the dance banning town of Bomont from Oklahoma to Georgia, adding another film to Brewer’s resume of intriguing cinematic stories about the New South. Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald, looking like he transferred from Rydell High) migrates south to live with his aunt and uncle (Kim Dickens and scene-stealing Ray McKinnon, an Adel native and Oscar winner). There he runs afoul of Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), who instituted the dancing ban after his son died in a car accident, and woos Moore’s beautiful, troubled daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough, “Dancing with the Starsâ€). Brewer’s movie has a nice rhythm and does the South more justice than any other major Hollywood release.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (R) Stieg Larsson may have created Lisbeth Salander, but David Fincher and the bold Rooney Mara have made her a big-screen icon. (No offense to Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth, but Mara’s movie is loads better.) Fincher dangerously retains Larsson’s wicked, violent, European sexuality for Hollywood’s adaptation of the first book in the Millennium Trilogy. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) enlists the help of the titular tattooed (and multiply pierced) girl, a ward of the state who might be a psychopath but is certainly a genius, to solve a decades old murder. Readers of the novel will marvel at how smartly screenwriter Steven Zaillian jettisons the novel’s clunky points to streamline the central mystery (who killed Harriet Vanger?) and posit a new one (who is Lisbeth Salander?). Top-notch performances, red slashes of humor and Fincher’s masterful control of style (the stunning opening credits imply some twisted mix of Bond and bondage) propel the film with a badass energy, fed by Academy Award winning composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose. Much like The Silence of the Lambs, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo weds the ghettoized thrills of genre with a larger cinematic ambition. Pop literary filmmaking gets no better than this.

THE GREY (R) January is ending; it must be time for another Liam Neeson actioner. The formerly acclaimed actor has almost completed his transformation into an English Denzel Washington, whose filmography is filling up with inconsequential paychecks jobs. At least Joe Carnahan (Narc, The A-Team) is writing and directing this tale of an Alaskan drilling team struggling to defeat a pack of wolves hunting them after their plane crashes in the wilderness. With Dermot Mulroney and James Badge Dale (“The Pacificâ€).

GRIZZLY MAN (R) 2005. Werner Herzog, whose most recent film was the well-received Cave of Forgotten Dreams, popped back on the world filmmaking scene with this funny, creepy, sad documentary of animal activist Timothy Treadwell, who was fatally mauled in 2003 by one of his beloved bears. What could be a simple, gorgeous nature film becomes something psychologically deeper as Treadwell’s sometimes psychotic ramblings betray the confused man who only felt truly comfortable when among his bears. This highly recommended film won the Sundance Film Festival’s Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

HAPPY FEET 2 (PG) Mad Max creator George Miller may not be able to get a new entry in his post-apocalyptic Outback franchise off the ground, but he was able to continue his singing-dancing penguin series. Sadly, I was underwhelmed by the first film, so I have little interest in a 3D sequel about tap-dancing penguin Mumble (v. Elijah Wood). Now a father, Mumble must help his son, Erik, find his place in the Emperor Penguin world while facing a new threat with his friends and family. Featuring the voices of Robin Williams, Pink and other famous folks.

HAYWIRE (R) The narrative goes a little haywire, leaving the impression that an expositional scene or two are missing, but the athletic, graceful action choreography skillfully executed by MMA fighter and former American Gladiator Gina Carano and captured on camera by the always surprising Steven Soderbergh knocks out all its current action competitors. Black ops agent Mallory Kane (Carano) is burned by the head of the private agency for which she works, a skeezy guy named Kenneth (well-played by Ewan McGregor). Mallory must clear her name, but who can she trust? Her dad (Bill Paxton)? One of several other government employees (Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas)? C-Tatez (Channing Tatum)? The action’s cool, the visuals even cooler (think the euro-class of The American but more muscle) and Carano’s hot (and surprisingly up to the dramatic task). That audiences are giving Haywire a rare D+ CinemaScore is baffling. These same audiences bestowed A-’s on both Contraband and the latest Underworld, two action movies that together do not equal the filmmaking or star power of Haywire. When Soderbergh doesn’t connect with audiences (see the Clooney-led Solaris), he REALLY doesn’t connect with audiences. (Note: I dug Solaris too.)

HUGO (PG) Oh, to be an orphan living in an early-20th-century clock! Despite its near perfection, this 3D family film—Martin Scorsese’s first—may be the loveliest wide release to struggle to find its audience this year. Yet it’s no wonder Scorsese, himself a film historian as well as a film lover, decided to adapt Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, whose central mystery revolves around an early cinematic master. Parisian orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who lives inside the clocktower of the train station, seeks the answer to a mysterious automaton, left unsolved by his late father and clockmaker (Jude Law), with the help of a toymaker named Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his charge, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Knowledgeable cinephiles will be enthralled by Selznick’s story, wonderfully adapted by Oscar-nominated scribe John Logan, which I refuse to spoil, and enchanted by the legendary filmmaker’s gorgeous imagery, which conjures memories of Amelie. Sadly, the family audiences that ensured the existence of a third Alvin and the Chipmunks will not be flocking to this thoughtful, literary two-plus-hour masterpiece, easily one of this cinema great’s best pictures.

• THE INNKEEPERS (R) In his fifth feature—the third since gaining notoriety in the larger horror and film community for The House of the Devil—writer-director Ti West again proves a master of controlled terror in tight quarters (a very John Carpenter-esque trait) in The Innkeepers. The Yankee Pedlar Inn is about to close down for good. On its final weekend, employees Claire (Sara Paxton, The Last House on the Left) and Luke (Pat Healy) plan to finally nab some evidence of the ghost they believe to be haunting the place. West uses the creepy, claustrophobic setting to establish the same retro-horror vibe of House of the Devil, and as with the previous film, criticisms that the film is more scary atmosphere than scary action can be levied. More power to West, if he wishes for a Wiser Haunting vibe than most modern ghost flicks. The strong casting helps. Paxton is becoming an undervalued scream queen, and Healy’s proper balance of levity and terror parallels the film’s deft handling of those oft ill-mixed tones. As a genre fanatic, I cannot wait to see West’s future scare tactics.

THE IRON LADY (PG-13) As a fan of all things British, The Iron Lady should have been more appealing to me, but the clumsy construction by director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) and writer Abi Morgan sink it. Meryl Streep may not be a revelation (she cannot be; the highest level of acting is expected of her), but her Golden Globe winning and sure to be Oscar nominated portrayal of Margaret Thatcher goes beyond mere impression. Too bad the film wastes far too much of its sub-two-hour running time on the later years framework. Any time Streep’s ancient Maggie (the makeup is good) appeared to harangue a hallucination of her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent, classy as ever), was a time to check out. And these flash-forwards happen a lot, sometimes for mere seconds, ripping us from the more interesting tale of Thatcher becoming the first female Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom. The Iron Lady’s BAFTA nomination for Best Original Screenplay is utterly baffling. As a BBC television production, The Iron Lady might satisfy, but as big screen, awards bait biopic, it falls woefully short. Maggie would certainly not have approved.

J. EDGAR (R) Clint Eastwood directs nothing overwhelmingly with this fairly straightforward biopic of the visionary American crime fighter J. Edgar Hoover. The two-hour plus awards-bait is a showcase for likely Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio. The 37-year-old actor wastes not a moment of screen time, during much of which he’s clad in ultra-believable makeup as the aged Hoover, dictating his memoir to a string of junior G-men. The film unfolds as a sort of greatest hits of Hoover’s life. He recounts his promotion to the head of the FBI, the Lindbergh case, his close, working relationship with longtime secretary Helen Gundy (Naomi Watts), his close, private relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, The Social Network), and his too-close relationship with his mother (Dame Judi Dench). Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black does not write this film with anywhere near the introspective depth of Milk; J. Edgar offers too few insights into an intriguingly complex subject who had his fingers in so many of America’s historical pies. It’s simply a nice Cliff’s Notes version of what would probably be a mammoth biography through which to plow.

JACK AND JILL (PG) Adam Sandler must have thought the fake movies from Funny People had real potential to have signed on for this pitiful comedy where he plays both Jack Sadelstein and his twin sister, Jill. They key to the entire one-joke movie is that Sandler makes an ugly woman. Jill’s homeliness and her lack of self-awareness propel one lame gag after another. Sandler’s usual pals (Allen Covert, Nick Swardson) and celebrity cameos pepper the cast. Al Pacino’s appearance is the least likely and most unfortunate as he plays himself as a desperate man smitten with Jill. Regrettably, the flick also features more than a handful of casually stereotypical racial humor, though everything, even the lazy plotting and joke writing, is executed with the amiability that typifies its star. However, geniality is no excuse for Sandler fans to continue his string of unsubtle, unoriginal comedy hits.

JOYFUL NOISE (PG-13) You can almost hear the studio executive wheels turning for this godly “Glee†knockoff. A church choir from Small Town, GA heads to a national competition with new director, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah), squaring off against G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), the widow of the recently deceased former director (briefly and poorly played by Kris Kristofferson). Plenty of other minor melodramas—Vi’s 16-year-old daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) falls for G.G.’s rebellious grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan); another choir member finds love…twice; while others face financial hardships due to the current economic downturn—engulf the group as they prepare some new numbers in order to win the national crown. The charismatic leads do their best to engage, Latifah with her genteel gruffness and Dolly wholly through nuggets of colloquial country “wisdom.†Her dialogue distinctly differs from everyone else; it’s like a “Hee Haw†version of Shakespearean English (minus the timeless poeticism). Nothing in this movie is as strong as its rousing musical performances; too bad the entire, just shy of two-hour running time isn’t set to music.

LE HAVRE (NR) Four-time Palme d’Or nominee Aki Kaurismaki (Drifting Clouds, The Man Without a Past and Lights in the Dusk) wrote and directed this comedic drama of an African boy (Blondin Miguel) and the aging shoe shiner (Andre Wilms) who takes him into his home in the port city of Le Havre. This Palme d’Or nominee won Cannes’ FIPRESCI Prize and was nominated for four European Film Awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenwriter).

MAN ON A LEDGE (PG-13) Don’t confuse this crime thriller with the tremendous documentary Man on Wire. Sam Worthington stars as Nick Cassidy, a suicidal ex-con needing to be talked down by police psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks). Oh, by the way, the biggest diamond heist, like, ever is going on at the same time. Coincidence? This flick, whose trailers are woefully underwhelming, is director Asger Leth’s first fiction feature. The cast (Worthington, Banks, Jamie Bell, Edward Burns, Kyra Sedgwick, Anthony Mackie, William Sadler and Ed Harris) is good, though.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE—GHOST PROTOCOL (PG-13) Mission: Impossible is that rare franchise that has actually gotten better with each new installment and in inverse proportion to its megastar’s popularity. Tom Cruise had few peers in 1996 when the weak, original M:I opened; now he’s more often a punchline, albeit a badass punchline who does many of his own death-defying stunts, like climbing the outside of the world’s tallest building. What sets the Mission: Impossible franchise apart from any other existing action series is its star-producer’s knack for finding the best, new behind the camera talent. First-time live-action feature director Brad Bird is known to be an animation auteur (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), and he apparently doesn’t realize action of the live variety has limitations. Now he’s the guy who can still make a Tom Cruise stunt spectacular stand out like it’s the late ’90s. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his new team (the gorgeous Paula Patton, stalwart Jeremy Renner and A-1 comic relief Simon Pegg) must clear IMF’s name after a bombing decimates the Kremlin. From Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, the action doesn’t let up from scene one. A fun, funny, thrilling total summer package, M:i—GP will have you wondering why June’s so cold.

MONEYBALL (PG-13) 2011. Based on Michael Lewis’ bestseller, director Bennet Miller’s Oscar-nominated follow-up to Capote actually makes baseball statistics interesting. Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt) and his sidekick (Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill) attempts to build a championship ballclub through On Base and Slugging Percentage rather than traditional scouting. Does it work? Anyone familiar with Major League Baseball already knows the answer, but the film, adapted by the Oscar-nominated Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin keeps the season entertaining and suspenseful. This highly entertaining front office drama should generate pennant fever, whether or not you’re a sports fans.

THE MUPPETS (PG) Cowriter-star Jason Segel’s reboot of Jim Henson’s lovable puppets is built with his obvious love and understanding of what made their 1979 film debut so special. Gary (Segel), his puppet brother Walter, and Gary’s longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), travel to L.A., where they discover a plot to destroy the Muppet Theater by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Together, they help Kermit reunite the old gang—Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, et al.—to put on a telethon in order to raise the money needed to buy back the property. Self-referential with a joke ratio that favors adults two-to-one (a Muppet staple), some terrific songs by one-half of Flight of the Conchords, and a bevy of celebrity cameos, this film revives the Muppets as you remember them.

ONE FOR THE MONEY (PG-13) Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum comes to the big screen. Newly divorced and unemployed, Plum (Katherine Heigl) takes a gig at her cousin’s bail bond business. Her first assignment just happens to be a local cop and former flame (Jason O’Mara of “Terra Novaâ€). Will it be the start of a franchise for star Heigl, or more proof the public is over “Grey’s Anatomyâ€â€™s former It Girl? Director Julie Anne Robinson and most of the cast are prime-time players at best.

PUSS IN BOOTS (PG) Shrek’s fairy tale may have moved on to happily ever after, but Puss in Boots (v. Antonio Banderas) is still itching for a fight. His spinoff reveals the swordfighting antics that led up to Puss meeting up with Shrek and company. Naturally, this flick was once slated for a direct-to-DVD release; will the cat be able to match the ogre’s blockbuster results? Director Chris Miller previously helmed Shrek the Third. Featuring the voices of Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis and more.

RED TAILS (PG-13) Red Tails, a pet project of Star Wars creator George Lucas, succeeds everywhere it should and fails nowhere that should surprise anyone. The valor of the Tuskegee Airmen is every bit as worthy of patriotic, big screen fanfare as the flyers of Pearl Harbor and the WWI-era Lafayette Escadrille in Flyboys, and their movie is every bit the equal of dramatic lightweight and action heavyweight. These three aviation-centered war movies are near interchangeable, besides their single major hooks (Pearl Harbor, World War I and African-American pilots). A crew of attractive young black men (including Nate Parker, David Oleyowo, Tristan Wilds and Ne-Yo) are led into combat by stalwart veterans Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard and must battle racism on the ground and in the air. (The Luftwaffe knew they were dogfighting with black men.) The dialogue is tin-eared as previous Lucas films (the prequels come to mind) and does not benefit the actors at all. Still, exciting, jingoistic fervor can sometimes wear down any foe, even an enemy script. By Red Tails end, it’s near impossible to root against these great American underdogs.

SHAME (NC-17) 2011. Michael Fassbender’s career ignited with Inglorious Basterds and X-Men: First Class. Now he shows some love for filmmaker Steve McQueen, who gave Fassbender a leading role in his award winning 2008 film, Hunger. In Shame, Fassbender plays a sex addict, whose carefully planned life is disrupted by a visit from his sister (Carey Mulligan). The film’s already won several awards (though Fassbender was snubbed by the Oscars), but most of the buzz is about how much screen time is given to Fassbender’s manhood.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (R) The machinations Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the new film from Let the Right One In’s Tomas Alfredson, may be a little too (you say dense, I say) murky for its own good. Despite the climactic presence of all the proper puzzle pieces, the filmmakers leave the viewer to believe there’s more to be worked out as a result of retired British spy George Smiley’s (an excellently restrained Gary Oldman) return to semi-active duty to uncover the identity of a mole amongst the highest echelons of MI6. The performances from an absolutely dynamite cast of Britons (Oldman, reigning Best Actor Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, “Sherlockâ€â€™s Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham and upcoming Batman villain Tom Hardy) keep one engaged even as the pregnant pauses and furtive glances overly cloud the already opaque espionage waters of literary spymaster John Le Carré. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may be too smart, tasking its audience to puzzle out a hundred piece central mystery like it were split into a thousand. The work’s rarely boring though.

TOWER HEIST (PG-13) With the help of a con (Eddie Murphy), a group of working stiffs (including Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Gabourey Sidibe and Michael Pena) plan a Danny Ocean-type heist on the high-rise home of the rich guy that took all of their money in a Ponzi scheme. This action comedy from oft-maligned Brett Ratner, who really missed his decade (imagine the ’80s buddy cop movies he could have made), also stars Tea Leoni, Alan Alda and Judd Hirsch.

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (R) I’ve never understood why the Underworld movies are so underwhelming. Vampires versus werewolves, Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight black leather, Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen all should add up to a crazy awesome movie. Instead, the three previous Underworlds make great cures for insomnia. They’re some of the most soporific action movies I’ve ever seen. Underworld: Awakening boasts a new directing team, a third dimension and the return of Beckinsale. It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching one of these flicks, though nothing about Awakening elevates it much past the Resident Evil/Paul W.S. Anderson plane. Still, fans of the franchise should enjoy another round of blue-lit ultraviolence. Nighy and Sheen are duly missed as well; Stephen Rea alone is not just compensation for their absence. The best critique I can level at Underworld: Awakening: at least I didn’t fall asleep this time. That’s a step forward, right?

W.E. (R) 2011. Madonna’s sophomore directing effort covers some of the same ground as last year’s big Oscar winner, The King’s Speech, as the romance between King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson is paralleled by the relationship between a married woman and a Russian security guard. No shocker here, but all three Golden Globe nominations were for the movie’s music, including a new Madonna tune. With Abbie Cornish, Andrea Wiseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac and Natalie Dormer.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (PG-13) Harry Potter himself returns. Daniel Radcliffe transitions to his post-Potter career with this period horror movie from the director of the underrated thriller, Eden Lake, which starred the white-hot Michael Fassbender. In a remote village, Radcliffe’s young lawyer, Arthur Kipp, discovers a woman’s vengeful spirit is haunting the locals. Screenwriter Jane Goldman typically collaborates with X-Men: First Class’s Matthew Vaughn. With Ciaran Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Golden Globe nominee Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).

YOUNG ADULT (R) As the ghost writer of a popular Sweet Valley High ripoff, high school hottie Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) escaped her tiny hometown of big box stores and chain restaurants to live a chic life in the “Mini-apple.†Now she returns to her old kingdom to get her former beau, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), back, despite his happy marriage and newborn daughter. Instead, she runs into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate crippled by a vicious beating, who applies his wicked humor and insight to Mavis’s desperate plan. Young Adult may not be as perfectly balanced a comic drama as Jason Reitman’s last two Oscar nominees, but it is as well-cast. If Hollywood were a perfect place, this role would finally catapult Oswalt onto the A-list.